Last month, we discussed how you can study storytelling techniques in TV shows and movies to improve your writing. That was so much fun—I mean, who doesn’t love talking TV and movies?—that I’ve decided to round up even more examples we can learn a lot from.
Here are more shows you can watch that can give an aspiring writer a lot more than a half hour’s worth of entertainment.
1) Parks and Recreation: Friendship
Where to watch it: Peacock
Along with Friends and The Office, Parks and Recreation is one of the shows I have rewatched the most over the years. My affection for the show isn’t so surprising, given that it was created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Greg Daniels developed The Office for American television, while Michael Schur was a writer and producer on the show (he also created The Good Place, another favorite of mine).
But as much as I love The Office, Parks and Recreation manages to hit me in the feels like no other show can. More often than not, these emotional moments are due to the strength of the friendships between the characters on the show.
Leslie Knope is painted as an overeager, awkward person at first who doesn’t have a lot of friends at work. As the show goes on, though, we see close bonds develop between her and many members of her office. And these friendships are all the more meaningful to the viewer because they didn’t just happen right off the bat. Her boss Ron is constantly annoyed by her in the beginning, and the intern April doesn’t seem terribly fond of her either (though, to be fair, she’s not really fond of anyone). Over time they both come to love and respect Leslie, and the scenes where they begrudgingly acknowledge how much she means to them will have you running for the tissues. Ron’s father-daughter relationship with April is very touching as well.
As a writer, you can learn a lot from this show about how to develop compelling friendships between your characters, and how to make those emotional moments really pack a punch.
2) Death Note: Cat-and-Mouse
Where to watch it: Netflix
If you tell an anime-loving friend that you’re curious about anime but don’t know where to start, there is a good chance that they will recommend Death Note. It is not only one of the most beloved animes out there, but it’s also a show that will appeal to anyone who appreciates a good story.
The first episode of the show gets right to the point: teenager Light encounters a “Death Note”—a notebook he can use to kill people simply by imagining their face and writing their name down in the book. He can also specify how exactly each person will die. After using the notebook to give a man holding teachers and children hostage a heart attack, he starts killing criminals all over Japan. He sees himself as a sort of avenging angel.
It doesn’t take long for the police to take note of all these deaths, and for a brilliant detective, L, to take interest in the case. He begins chasing Light, trying to discover his identity and track him down. Light and L continually outsmart one another, and the viewer is left unsure as to who to root for. Light is a killer, but for what many would consider a noble cause. He is a killer nonetheless, though, and his motives definitely become less noble as he gets closer to being caught. L is also a fascinating character with many endearing quirks, while Light progressively becomes too arrogant to relate to.
This show is an example of a cat-and-mouse story done extremely right. If you’re working on such a story, I highly suggest giving this series a watch. While there’s plenty to admire about Death Note, the dynamic between Light and L is what truly makes it a masterpiece.
3) Schitt’s Creek: Character Growth
Where to watch it: Netflix
No one expected a humble Canadian comedy to take the world by storm, but that’s exactly what Schitt’s Creek did. The show, created by father and son Eugene and Dan Levy (who also star in the show), wasn’t terribly popular in its first few seasons but became a fan favorite when it debuted on Netflix in its third season. The hilarious show now receives the adoration it deserves.
One of the show’s best qualities is the way its characters grow over time. Wealthy parents Johnny and Moira, as well as their adult children David and Alexis, lose their fortune after being defrauded by their business manager. Their only choice is to move into the run-down local motel in Schitt’s Creek, a small town Johnny once bought “as a joke”.
At the beginning of the show, the Rose family is made up of completely self-centered people who want nothing more than to return to their lives of luxury. But through living in Schitt’s Creek and getting to know its residents, they become more caring and considerate. These improvements develop very gradually—Alexis and David both begin to think and worry about each other bit by bit, and Johnny and Moira’s relationships with their children start to matter to them in a way they never did before. Alexis and David grow to the extent that they are able to enjoy deep, healthy relationships with new significant others, rather than the shallow ones they’ve had in the past.
The members of the Rose family still retain enough of their amusingly selfish qualities for the show to remain funny, but these characters show real growth over the show’s six seasons that you don’t often see in other half-hour comedies. Studying this show will help you to understand how to make your characters improve slowly and believably over time.
There really are so many great television shows out there that you can learn from as a writer. Each time you consume a story—be it through a book, comic, TV show, or film—is an opportunity to notice what works about it and what doesn’t. Viewing shows and movies through this educational lens will help you to become a better writer without ever having to leave your couch.